Sci-Fi – The worlds of Japanese cyberpunk culture started to take shape in the ‘90s from the pencils of pioneering artists who envisioned alienating urbanscapes inspired by booming Asian megacities. These futuristic worlds are on show at the Anime Architecture exhibition at London’s House of Illustration. Curator Stefan Riekeles selected 100 technical drawings and watercolour illustrations from some of the most influential productions including Ghost in the Shell, Akira and Metropolis.
The artists on show were tasked with creating a universe for the director. Their fictional worlds reflect real-life concerns over rapid urban and technological development, mirroring the narratives of the films and giving the backgrounds a crucial role to play.
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The exhibition features Hiromasa Ogura’s watercolour paintings for Ghost in the Shell. The anime epic is based on the manga by Shirow Masamune and informed also The Matrix and Avatar. The original movie’s urbanscape which is now on theaters as a live action film depicts the striking contrast between a derelict Chinese town and faceless, looming skyscrapers.
“The world of Ghost in the Shell was drew and designed to evoke a feeling of submerging into the deep levels of the city, where a flood of information overflows the human senses and a lot of noise surrounds the people. The artists were looking for an expression of a crowded space”. Explains Stefan Riekeles, curator of Anime Architecture.
“They found a blueprint for such a place in Hong Kong, which is exotic enough for a Japanese audience to evoke a feeling of alienation and strangeness but familiar enough to relate their daily life to. The film is set partially in Hong Kong of the 90s and partially in a fictional, so called “new city”. The new city represents the future while the real Hong Kong figures as the past. It is fascinating to see, how the artists integrated both concepts in their illustrations.”
Pencil drawings by Takashi Watabe – one of the most important Japanese illustrators of his generation – for 2008’s sequel Ghost in the Shell 2: Innocence also feature. The exhibition also includes work from Patlabor: The Movie (1989) and Metropolis (2001), by Mamoru Oshii and Atsushi Takeuchi.
The works on show are not just paintings but are set decorations made for the animation camera. “The background illustrations depict urban environments in a way that appeals to the eye of the camera first”. Indeed, the artists have to consider the optical characteristics of the camera lens.
The image is layered. “You have background, middleground and foreground, sometimes even more layers”. By moving the layers independently in front of the camera it is possible to generate effects of depth. It looks as if the camera is panning or moving into the background. So the illustrations possess a physical structure of their own.
“I call this the architecture of the image. You can read the title of the exhibition in both ways: “architecture in anime” or “architecture of anime”. From the perspective of painting I really admire how the artist excavates the architectonic structure from the plain blue areas”. Adds Stefan Riekeles.
All drawings: courtesy of London’s House of Illustration. Layout and background illustrations: ©1995 Shirow Masamune, KODANSHA-·-BANDAI-VISUAL-·-MANGA-ENTERTAINMENT-Ltd. Concept designs: ©2004 Shirow Masamune, KODANSHA · IG, ITNDDTD.